Archive for January, 2009
Cheese for breakfast and weekend of cheese!

Whenever possible, there’s never quite anything like starting the day with cheese. Simple, fast breakfast; good cheese, good bread, real butter, some eggs and strong black coffee. Had to go through the cheese drawer this morning in the fridge and make plans for what is left in there. I also needed to discover what may have turned on me when I wasn’t looking, and what I could eat for breakfast. YES, I LOVE Artisan cheeses from California and the United States, but I love cheese [.] period! Some of my favorite cheeses are Swiss raw cow-milk, semi-firm cheeses. I was thrilled to see that we still had a little wedge of a very distinctive Swiss cheese that I had purchased; Alemennkäse. Much like an excellent Gruyère, it is a hard-to-find, smaller production cheese distributed through Crystal Foods Import of Boston. Truth is, I bought it at The Cheese Board in Berkeley, California, but as I began to write this, I wanted to make sure I had the spelling correct of the cheese, so I could look it up online. I called the Cheeseboard, and despite telling them what I had bought, they could not find or tell me what it was. ”Our Swiss is from the company Emmi…” said their cheese buyer on the phone. ”No, no,” I replied, “this was from a smaller producer. One that carries the BIO label ["BIO" is a type of European labeling representing organic products].” Regretfully the cheese buyer at The Cheeseboard wasn’t following me at all, and claimed they didn’t carry it. Frustrated, I called someone I knew who WOULD know; Gordon Edgar of Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco.

Although I was embarrassed to admit that I had questions about a cheese that I had not bought from Gordon’s cooperative, he was as helpful and knowledgeable as ever, taking the time to talk to me about it. Not only did he get me the correct spelling
of the name, but he also says that Rainbow Grocery carries it as well.
The Internet has nothing to say about Alemennkäse, that I could find, but armed with information from Gordon, I spoke with the kind people at Crystal Foods Import, and then with Caroline Hostettler, who is herself Swiss, and imports quality cheeses from Europe via her business (located in Florida); Quality Cheese. Confused? Well, no need to be; thanks to cheese buyers like Gordon, you can sit back and relax after picking up cheese like Alemennkäse at Rainbow. The good news is that Caroline will be sending me some information about Alemennkäse via e-mail soon.

OK, now that we’re confused, what does this have to do with the weekend?

Thanks for getting me back on track, “inner-cheese voice”. Crystal Foods Import will be one of the hundreds of companies  at the Fancy Food Show [booth 3607] which starts this weekend in San Francisco. Kathy and I are attending on Sunday, meeting up with friends from both Chico and Orange County (California), and eating our way through a world of food. I hope to have something interesting to say about the cheeses represented there after the weekend.

Also this weekend, I’m planning on attending two events in honor of Clark Wolf’s Book; “American Cheeses

The first event is today, Friday the 16th of January at the Pasta Shop in Berkeley. The second is tomorrow, hosted by Cowgirl Creamery at San Francisco’s Ferry Building and is a triple celebration; Wolf’s new book, the Launch of Culture Magazine and the start of the Fancy Food Show. Hope to let you all know about these events following the weekend.

If YOU’LL be at the Fancy Food Show this weekend, let me know using the comment section below; perhaps we can meet up and enjoy some cheese together.

Cheese Spy and Secret Cheese

There’s a lot of cheese out there to try, but not always the time and/or the money to do so. Often I find it easy to pick up familiar favorites, or ones that I know I can get easily or nearby… ah, but to have the chance to try something new! I was in Petaluma yesterday for one of the California’s Artisan Cheese Festival meetings [to be held March 20th -23rd, 2009 in Petaluma, and YES, you can buy tickets on the website now, and they are already going fast], and asked Jill Basch (of Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company) and Doralice Handal (of The Cheese Shop in Healdsburg) if they had any suggestions of nearby creameries to visit. They named a couple that I should call ahead and make a reservation to visit, but both also thought of Joe Matos Cheese Factory near Santa Rosa. The instructions on finding it sounded simple enough, and it wasn’t too far out of the way, so I drove north after the meeting.

This is about the point that I felt like a Cheese Spy. When I visit creameries, I try to be the nice, unobtrusive yet curious, guy who asks as many friendly questions as he can, buy a few cheeses and then reflect on it here on Canyon of Cheese. Cheesemakers and their employees tend to love to talk about their cheese, their processes, their farms, their milk. For many it is their passion, as well as their livelihood, and by sharing about it, you too become better informed about the cheese. As you can see from the weathered sign, Joe Matos Cheese Factory has been around for a long time. The additional signs leading me down their road to the “cheese factory” were simularly worn. Once I arrived at what seemed to be the end of the road, I parked amongst a small gathering of buildings including a barn or two. Dogs and cats could be seen, cows off in the pasture, farm equipment, but no people. Eventually a gentleman (who I assume was Joe Matos, based on the pictures I saw in the Factory’s office), came ambling by, and I, looking very much like a city-slicker in a button-up collared shirt, sunglasses and carrying a camera, extended my hand for a handshake and said that I was hoping to buy some cheese. He looked at me with either suspicion, or more likely indifference, and after shaking my hand pointed me to the “office”, a door on one of the buildings which, unless examined closely almost did not indicate its purpose (I noticed later that there was an “open” sign in the window).

A buzzer went off as I walked through the door into a six foot by six foot room with a counter and one wheel of cheese inside of it behind glass. A scale stood on top of the counter, and a few pictures and articles on the wall. What immediately caught my eye though was an open door leading to the aging room, and that looked like heaven; shelves and shelves of aging wheels… I took a couple photos, and although I didn’t feel unwanted (they clearly sell cheese), I did feel slightly irreverent, like taking snapshots in a church. Eventually a woman, about the same age as the man I had met outside, walked from the aging room to behind the counter. I told her I was pleased to be visiting their creamery. This had no effect. She seemed rather stoic. I had brought a pen & paper, and perhaps that (along with the camera) were working against me. She handed me a generous slice of cheese from the wheel behind the glass. Not wanting to assume or offend, I asked; “may I ask you some questions about your cheese?” To which she replied; “we do not give any information about our cheese.” That stopped me in my tracks. If I was a Cheese Spy, I was the worst possible Spy there was. Knowing that I wasn’t one, however, and that I just wanted to try another hand-made cheese in California we got down to business. The cheese (of which I didn’t even know the name of) was seven dollars a pound, I asked for a pound and the wedge she cut ended up being just over a pound; eight bucks. She wrapped it up nicely for me, complete with sticker and card, and I left, looking forward to eating more of the cheese at home.  I also wanted to look up more information about what I had just tasted, bought, and experienced.

 Wrapped St. Jorge Wedge of St. Jorge

My visit was perhaps no different than other’s who have gone before me, as witnessed by Janet Fletcher’s 2003 article about the creamery; “A Portuguese secret revealed“. It is DUE to the Matos’ dedication as well as their excellent pricing (I challenge you to find a similar hand-crafted cheese like this in the Santa Rosa/Petaluma area at $7 a pound), and taste which makes their Cheese Factory well worth visiting.

I kept half the wedge for snacking, and the other half I used in the recipe below. If YOU know of some other “Secret Cheese” gems worth trying (in California or not), please use the comment section to let us all know about them.

Italian Zucchini Casserole

(This is a recipe given to me by my mother-in-law, Karen. Kathy and I have been using it for years, and although it’s one of those recipes you can find in many cookbooks, I’ve added a few notes to help make it come out just right each time.)

 

Ingredients:

 

4 cups thinly sliced unpeeled zucchini

1 coarsely chopped large onion

½ cup butter

½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, or 2 Tbsp dry parsley

½ tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

¼ tsp garlic powder

¼ tsp Dried Sweet Basil

¼ tsp dried Oregano

2 beaten eggs

8 oz. (approx. 2 cups) Muenster or Mozzarella cheese

8 oz. Refrigerated Crescent Roll (croissant) dough

 

Instructions:

* please read “notes” below before making.

  • Preheat Oven to 375°
  • In a 10-inch or 11-inch un-greased baking dish (small lasagna pan works great), spread the dough.
  • Bake the dough briefly (5 to 7 minutes) so that it begins to rise, but does not brown. Remove from oven.
  • Pre-Baked Onions & Zucchini

  • In a large skillet, cook zucchini & onion in butter until tender (approximately 10 minutes).
  • Stir in seasonings
  • In a large bowl, blend the cheese with the pre-bended eggs. Stir in the vegetable mix.
  • Mix Egg & Cheese Mixture into Dish

  • Pour in egg/cheese/vegetable mixture on top of the dough, spread evenly.
  • Bake entire casserole for 18 to 20 minutes, remove and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Finished Casarole

 

*Notes: Almost any number of mild cheeses will work well with this dish. I often combine some Mozzarella with some Gruyère. This time, I mixed some mass-produced domestic Mozzarella I had along with the Joe Matos St. Jorge. Although a soft cheese, I used the cutting blade of my food processor to chop and mix the two cheeses. Read about using your Food Processor correctly for grating or chopping cheese on this previous post.

Cubing for Processing After Processing

The food processor is also a huge time-saver if you want to get very thin slices of zucchini, using the “slice” blade. As to “stirring in” the vegetable mix to the cheese and eggs, I typically cheat and continue to use my hand mixer until all the ingredients are well blended.

Washington State Artisan Cheese – Estrella!

One of the many things I have not had the chance to write about was some of the wonderful cheese we bought at the U-district Farmer’s Market ["University District"] in Seattle over Thanksgiving weekend. There were four different cheese booths that we got to try, but for now I’d like to concentrate on Estrella Family Creamery, which, for me, really stood out.

Truly artisan, hand-made cheeses, Estrella produces a large variety of raw milk goat and cow milk cheeses. Kathy and I were fortunate to have the chance to try, and purchase, their wonderful cheeses, which are difficult to get here in California. Although we tried two or three of the cheeses, we ultimately ended up getting some of their Valentina, a raw-cow’s milk cheese which has a taste and consistency not unlike a Gruyère. We brought this back to my brother and sister-in-law’s house to enjoy along with my parents who were also visiting Seattle.

A side note to this is that California’s Artisan Cheese Festival [March 20th -23rd, 2009 in Petaluma] hopes that Estrella Family Creamery will be able to come and represent its self, and the state of Washington at the festival. They’re thinking about it, but as you may or may not know, it is often difficult (not to mention costly) for artisan cheese makers to leave their farm and travel. You can read all about Estrella’s true family approach towards cheesemaking in their wonderful “about us” section (click on “our story” from there). Again, can’t stress enough that I hope they’ll be able to participate in March so that you too can try their amazing cheeses (provided you come the the festival; get your tickets ASAP!).

In other Cheese News for the day, there’s a review of the new book; “American Cheeses” by Clark Wolf in today’s SF Chronicle Newspaper. In case you can’t pick up a copy of the paper, here’s a link to the review.